VERSE | BE STILL MY BEATING HEART

Be still my beating heart 
It’s only the setting sun
With its fiery orange hues
Tinged with scarlet and indigo
Its the colours of a day that’s done
Be still my beating heart
It’s only the setting sun

Be still my racing blood
It’s only the ocean wide
It’s waves unfurling liquid lace
Onto my upturned, sun-warmed face
As I leap into the rushing tide
Be still my racing blood
It’s only the ocean wide

Be still my aching breast
It’s only a trail in the greenwood glade
Hemmed on the edges with wild flowers
Glistening in the wake of a spring shower
It’s only the whispering leaf dappled shade
Be still my aching breast
It’s only a trail in the geenwood glade

Be still my breathless lungs
It’s only the afternoon sky
With a rainbow that has looped around
The azure blueness like a crown
A beautiful palette of pastel dyes
Be still my breathless lungs
It’s only the after-rain sky

Be still my quickening breath
It’s only the lover’s first kiss
You’ve been on that road before
You’ve flown where the eagles soar
And also curled up where the earthworms live
Be still my quickening breath
It’s only the sweetheart’s first kiss

Be still my beating heart
It’s only the setting sun
The mystical ocean and the greenwood glade
The after-rain sky and the lover’s kiss
It’s the enchantment that nostalgia has spun
Be still my beating heart
It’s just life in perpetual thrum.

VERSE | LONGING

I found an eyelash on your cheek 
It perched there like a dream
I couldn’t take my eyes away
From that hypnotising scene

The beautiful imperfection of
That eyelash out of place
Was also the exquisiteness
Of nature’s untamed grace

You looked at me as I looked at
The fallen angel on your cheek
It fluttered on broken wings like
Back into heaven it would leap

And then you smiled that special smile
Where your eyes light up with mirth
The eyelash took a leap of faith
Becoming one with the pulsing earth

I found an eyelash, it had strayed
Onto your sun warmed skin
It filled my heart with wistfulness
With love and with longing.

VERSE | REMINISCENCE

You said to look for you in blooms
The most vibrant that adorned
The sunny yellow Amalthas
As it stood verdant in the lawn

I chose a bower in my mind
It was you whispering to me
Everytime a drizzle fell
Or when she murmured in the breeze

But then came fall and with it all
The flowers began to drop
I held my breath as I watched
But you stayed shimmering on

You wore your golden yellows
Dancing in your green abode
But then nature came calling your name
You were the last to free your hold

You whispered softly one last time
As you let go of the tree
I watched but did not linger, I
Imagined you somewhere roaming free

But in my heart I’ve always known
You’ve shredded up your form
With all your love and courage
Back into the earth you’ve gone

You said that I should look for you
In the things that make me smile
I see you now in leaves and flowers
In the rain and the fireflies.
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VERSE | MELANCHOLIA

When evening falls and once again 
Melancholia sets in
Tinctures and shadows of times gone by
Come bleeding, weeping in

When the orbit of the earth
Has brought in the dark of night
And memories, remembrances
When all with the world was right

When you cannot escape the bed
That has forged into a cell
Holding you fast for the night
In unending wakefulness

When at last your weary mind
At some hour releases you
Into realms of visions and dreams
That bruise and lance anew

When you finally awake
And the sun shines bright again
Pumping the lifeblood that the night
Has stolen from your veins

Breathe in deeply, close your eyes
This will not be the last
Of eventide’s strange conjuring
Of aching for the past

Many will be the days when
The joyless cycle will repeat
But at some point the salve of time
Will turn the memories bittersweet.
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VERSE | NOSTALGIA

She steps into the car
Its gleaming surfaces
Adorned with gladioli and motia*
She’s the bride tonight
Garlands also lovingly
Entwine in her hair
Their fragrance filling
The nighttime air
Eyes bright
Face shining with expectation
She glances behind her
Just for a moment
One last time
At that spot where she stood
Leaving behind her childhood
Marking the end of her maidenhood
She smiles
Nostalgia now sits there
Young, hopeful and light
Eyes bright
Face shining with expectation
Waiting to fill the space
That has been so tenderly placed
Into her sacred embrace.
* Motia: The Jasmine flower.

VERSE | OUR HUMANITY-FREE DIET

I’m in Karachi after two and a half years of Pandemic gridlocks, and it’s been a whirlwind of a homecoming. Besides grappling with the major and minor curveballs that my micro and macro environments tend to throw at me off and on, I have also been able to indulge in some nostalgia: found my little book in which I’ve put down a few poems that I’d written in my teens. Even at that tender age, external stimuli hit hard! 😅 Below is one of my verses from my adolescent days.

I was walking through the woods one day
With my thoughts in a turmoil
Oblivious to nature was I -
To the trees and the grass and the soil

I was attempting to decipher
The meaning of strife and war
Was it political agitation
For the enforcement of a law?

Or was it as I believed the cause
Of a moment’s disarray
Of a value old as age itself -
The simple Human Way

Where was the compassion that
Bespoke the worth of one?
Had the shield of dignity and love
Been replaced by the gun?

Where was the pride in good deeds
Where was the humility?
Was everything really shrouded by
The veil of frailty?

Frailty of causes
And frailty of sense
Had the once true noble values
Become a mere pretence?

I was looking for the answers
I was seeking a refuge
From the grief and the confusion that
Had overcome me like a deluge

It was then that I heard whispering
The soil, the grass, the trees
“You already have the answers
Now you only have to see

When man was made a brother
Unto the other one
The moulding of a sacred
Tradition had begun

So when war threatens to break this bond
Their spirit shall hold them fast
For that was always meant to be
Unto the very last”.

VERSE | A SWEET MOMENT IN TIME

Sometimes while I sit, engrossed in life
My brow lightly furrowed, concentrating
On getting the task at hand done
Running my five miles in the circle of creation

I hear a rustle, a little whisper
Of someone on the periphery of my thoughts
I glance up, as if to see the vision
Of that someone that always flits across
My mind on busy days like these
Resting otherwise in my heart;
I glance as if that heavenly soul has
Bridged our realms that are so far apart.

I look up, afraid to lose the thread
Of that feeling, that gentle touch
Of someone nestling in my core
Someone beloved, someone missed so much.
I look beyond into the blurry depths
Of my vision, desperately holding on
To that fleeting caress upon my cheek
Gifted, bestowed by a precious one.

The atoms of day, ricochet and I blink
Once, twice. I am back in the circle of life
I grope twice, three times for that lucid moment
When i was in the same space, alongside
Someone who most days quietly rests
In the warmest nooks of my being
A cherished one who on special days like this
Takes my hand, eyes twinkling as she beams!

I glance up, my soul surging with joy
For that precious moment, filling the void.
Sometimes while I sit, engrossed in life
I am touched by a beloved for a sweet moment in time.

VERSE | THE ANATOMY OF HOPE

It is feeling like the world has overcome 
You body and soul and then some
It’s like drowning in a bottomless sea
Gasping, gasping, trying to breathe
Sputtering, choking reaching for air
Crashing, thrashing limbs everywhere;
It’s feeling the whole world closing in
Vision blurring, darkness descending.
It’s being sure that many endings are near:
Of wanting, of living and even of fear;
It’s feeling the numbness spread like a pall
Binding you, blinding you even as you fall
Into the swirling, whirling abyss
Of dead emotions; of nothingness.

It’s finally seeing the smallest of gleams
Picking the darkness at its hoary seams
Little by little the flicker grows bright
Ever so slowly it pierces the night.
Your leaden heart too warms in the heat
Resuming its vital, pulsating beat;
You rise to the surface on a rip tide
You’re thawing and warming on the inside.
You break the surface of your despair
As your throttled lungs fill up with air;
Gasping, gasping you take in a breath
Sputtering and choking you hold on to the thread
Of the world coming back within reach;
Hope on strong wings, has ended the siege

She gathers you up in her healing arms
Anointing you with her soothing balms
Freeing you, steeling you so that you may walk
Another day with strength and love in your heart.

VERSE | THE SHADES OF LONELINESS

I’ve seen the colours of loneliness
I’ve seen their moldering faces
I’ve seen them fill the keening voids
Of our broken, scattered places.
It’s the grey of the sky just before it descends
In blinding cascades
Of granite and slate
While waiting for that one special friend of the heart
Who’s gone an infinite distance apart.
Gone forever; not coming back.
It’s the darkening shades of smoke and ash
Stifling and choking. It’s emotional whiplash.

It’s the curdled russet and clotted yellow
Of dying leaves
Still on the trees.
It’s the hope that once blossomed,
Now just a vanishing dream;
Like fading delusions;
And fractured illusions.
Like wasting ivy, still clinging tightly
To the mottled, purple-bruised spaces within.

It’s the decayed red of old blood
That has flowed and then congealed
From scarred old wounds
In the fallow fields
Of the innermost corners of your being.
It’s the throbbing new cuts of remembrance-pain
That sear you with their scarlet heat
Scorching your insides until there remain
Only the rust-dripping embers of defeat.

It’s these mottled hues and grainy textures
Of mangled hearts and hurting souls
Its the piercing, stinging, strangling tightness
In the pit of the stomach; in the back of the throat.
In the end, it is all of this
That make up the tinctures of loneliness
That fill up all our sad and desolate spaces.

SHORT STORY|SERENDIB LODGE – Part Two

The advances, hesitant at first, became more tenacious and vigorous as Sherry Kumar began to actively pursue Manel. She, for her part, was first puzzled, then agitated and finally began to perform a series of vanishing acts which left her breathless and her pursuer more ardent than ever before. This relentless cat and mouse chase continued for a month before a mentally exhausted Manel finally allowed herself to be cornered by her beaming, zealous stalker. She faced him shaking with unspent fury – How dare he! How dare he make her want to run away from her own home!

‘How dare you! How dare you chase me like I’m some leyna*! This is my home! Stop hassling me or I’ll – I’ll hit you!’ she raged, her racing heart threatening to break through her rib cage.

‘I just want to talk to you …’ Sherry Kumar responded placatingly. He hadn’t realized how deplorably his earnest efforts to just have a chat with her had been perceived. He was a little stunned, but mostly exhilirated at finally having the chance to lay his heart bare. For Sherry Kumar was in love; he had been, in fact, since his first fortnight at Serendib Lodge. Usually he’d beam and blink in blue-green tones at his object of affection and that sealed the deal, or not, with both probabilities playing out in equal measure. This was a first where he’d had to so passionately chase after someone for over a month and then be called a stalker for it.

‘What do you want?’ asked Manel, her face set in a frown that, by its sheer comical ferocity, indicated that it was far from being a regular visitor on that usually peaceful countenance. Even while she showed her unmitigated displeasure on the outside, she was more in control on the inside, seeing the man in front of her for the unexceptional mortal he was and not the fire-breathing dragon who’d been chasing her right into her nightmares for the past month.

‘I like you and I want to take you out to dinner’, said Sherry Kumar also back in control of the situation, and continuing down the oft-beaten path of his love lusts.

Manel looked at him as if she had just been handed a bag of rotten eggs.

‘I don’t want to go out to dinner with you. Stop coming after me or I’ll tell Melba’ she said in what was supposed to be the ultimate threat.

It has to be said that her complete and utter disdain and repulsion was borne more from her complete naïveté regarding relationships and their tortuous, sometimes awkward beginnings, than any real distaste for the man. She, however, wasn’t able to tell the difference – not yet.

And so Sherry Kumar retreated – for now.

After their first tumultuous meeting at the foot of the stairs, life had gone back to being ordinary and unremarkable. Manel remained wary but kept herself prepared for any recurrence of the earlier embarrassing episode, with regular doses of fortifying self talk. She went about her day, studiously avoiding her pursuer’s eyes but steadfastly fighting the urge to flee whenever he was around.

It was in February, three months after Sherry Kumar arrived at Serendib Lodge that he came down with dengue fever, the mosquito borne tropical disease that reduced brawny men to waifs of their former selves while in the throes of the fever. Sherry Kumar was no exception as the fever ravaged him for the next fortnight. He lay listlessly, sometimes appearing half dead and at others, quite completely corpse-like. His ruddy face was wan and the healthful glow of his bald head had reduced to a feverish, clammy glisten.

Manel became his inadvertent nurse and caregiver. Through those two weeks of delirium and exhaustion, she was at his side, feeding him, cleaning after him, helping him to the toilet, sponge bathing him and medicating him. As with most situations which show up the vulnerability and frailty of creatures, this too inspired sympathy, kindness and in Manel’s case, a softening of the heart. She now looked at the man lying lifelessly before her, willing him to heal and be whole again; to smile again; to talk to her again … to say some things to her again …. She looked away, blushing with the brazenness of her own thoughts; and then regained her composure with that censorious self deprecation that is such a hallmark of both, actual women of the cloth and those that avidly and truly imagine themselves to be nun-like: you’re 60 years old – love is for the young and carefree. Stop behaving like a giggly teenager!

With that, she went back to her nursing responsibilities with the chill of abstinence in her eyes and the armour of prohibition around her heart.

On the tenth day, Sherry Kumar woke up to Manel’s strained, serious countenance. She was reading a copy of the Pirith Potha*. He looked at her, instinctively wary of reigniting the fuse; and yet, there she was, so close, so reachable.

‘Hello Manel, nice to see you in my bedroom’ he said rustling up his characteristically optimistic spirit even as he lay there physically weak and spent.

Manel smiled in spite of herself. She allowed herself to look into the depths of those green eyes, mustering up the courage to briefly speak the language of the heart with this strange man; this oddly endearing man.

Sherry Kumar got well and back on his feet over the next ten days. He was gentle and subdued in his interactions with Manel – he had realized the discordance of his customary romantic ways with this extraordinary woman. Manel, in turn realized that she enjoyed his company; and more importantly, that she permitted herself to enjoy his attention. There was no trace of his earlier brutish, overbearing attitude. She was convinced that the sickness had changed him in some mysterious but blessed manner.

Mel saw the burgeoning friendship of the two with some foreboding. She wasn’t sure whether it was her own sense of self preservation or her concern for her friend of four decades that stoked her apprehension. She didn’t dwell on the motives for too long; those were irrelevant. What was important was that she talk to Manel; drum some sense into her. She had lost her head nursing that idiot.

So she sat Manel down and delivered a sermon full of horror, fire and brimstone. Manel listened with awe and then misgiving and finally, shame.

Sherry Kumar approached Manel once more, hesitantly but earnestly: Would she marry him he asked. Manel was adamantly clear – she would not.

It was November again and Sherry Kumar had left Serendib Lodge six months ago. He had remained in touch with Mel through text messages and FaceBook posts. He had no connection with Manel.

‘Manel look at this photo, aney*!’, said Mel one afternoon while they were both sitting in the veranda while billowing grey sheets of rain fell outside. It was a photo of Sherry Kumar with Shilpa, a girl who had frequented their home for years until she had moved to Kandy as, first a caregiver and then a companion to a recently widowed elderly woman. The caption read, “Just married! With my dream girl”

Aney ara pissa*, he’s finally got married!’ chortled Mel.

Manel looked at the image for a while, a crowd of emotions ricocheting through her head – sadness, regret, relief, disappointment and finally, defeat. She knew she had made the right decision and yet her heart fluttered brokenly. In her mind, even though she had rejected her suitor, he would remain devoted to her; even in the sea of people around him; amidst his cresting and waning relationships, he would continue to hold a candle for her. She smiled and then without warning even to herself, she cried, the tears falling like a river down her face while her heart shrivelled into a ball.

Mel looked at her incredulously, bewildered by her behaviour, ‘what’s wrong? God knows how long this will last. Thank God you escaped his clutches’.

Manel wept silently for a while and then nodded in acquiescence … resignation. She looked outside at the garden, trying to let go, to reach ahead; to reach beyond herself and her inexplicable grief.

The rain had stopped and turgid drops of water fell from the leaves on the trees as they stirred almost in sympathy and understanding for the lonely woman who walked among them.

* Leyna: Squirrel, in Sinhalese
* Aney: colloquial Sinhalese for “Aww, bless!”

* Pirith Potha: Book of Buddhist religious verses that are recited for protection. “Pirith” is the Sinhalese word for “Paritta” (in Pali) which means Protection.
* Aney ara pissa: colloquial Sinhalese for “oh that crazy lovable idiot”

SHORT STORY|SERENDIB LODGE – Part One

‘Chhip! Yanna!’(1), Manel scolded a cheerfully departing squirrel as it scampered off with a big chunk of foam from one of the sofa cushions in the veranda. She had a love-hate relationship with these feisty little denizens of the garden: she screamed and hollered at their fervent pillaging of everything that could be bitten or gnawed off, while she tut-tutted in sympathy when she found one of them dead in the flower beds; the victim of either a rodent-hunting garandia* or of the easeful burden of old age such as it tended to come upon them in their bountiful lives at 75, High Level Road.

She picked up the maimed cushion and dusted it down as if re-settling it diligently into its comfortable nook would somehow repair the damage. With Manel, a lot was symbolic and much was left to the quite often, fickle good graces of the universe.

Manel lived with Melba aka Mel, her companion and friend of 42 years and the matriarch and grande dame of their house in Nugegoda. She had brought Manel to her home from the Evelyn Nurseries orphanage in Kandy when Manel was 18 years old. Recently divorced and on her own for the first time in her 28 years, Mel had embarked on this enterprise of companionship with much deliberation and reflection. She was the product of missionary school education and the Colombo elite, a combination that, while breeding the well-heeled socialites of the city, also begot dozens of cultured, articulate but professionally unqualified widows and divorcees . These inhabitants of the now fringes of privilege – since the elite bell curve was usurped quite entirely by the debutantes and the still-married – were not only summarily launched into solitary independent lives but also into a world where they had to learn to fend for themselves. And Mel had gone at it with the tenacity of a bull dog: unlearning, relearning, challenging and changing the day to day norms and expectations that had bound her life so fully in her maiden days and even during her short wedded life. After four decades of dealing with the petulant, cantankerous universe of her existence, she had ripened Into a woman of many words and a somewhat short fuse that quite persuasively masked a still tender heart.

Manel was the antithesis of everything Mel was. Where Mel was loud and commanding, Manel was soft and placating; where one bull-dozed into situations, the other treaded with caution. It would be unjust to imagine that Manel’s reticence of nature and restraint were borne of Mel’s draconian demeanour; the matriarch was especially gentle with her beloved shrinking violet and protected her fiercely from the waywardness of the world. It was quite logical to imagine then that Manel was most likely bestowed with her acute sensitivity by the frivolous hands of nature itself. Physically too, the two were in serene discordance with each other: Mel was tall and willowy, while her companion was short and plump. One fiddled with the food on her plate, preferring instead to have a cigarette dangling from a mouth that was simultaneously engaged in an epic telling or retelling; the other made short, efficient shrift of every fulsome meal in front of her. And so the two women had lived together in almost improbable but perfect harmony and neither could imagine being without the companionship of the other.

Over the last twenty years, the two women had made such basic arrangements in their home that had allowed them to let out the three rooms upstairs to paying guests. Staying at the Serendib Lodge was just a little less than checking into a bed and breakfast and a tad more than residing in a friendly stranger’s home, where there was no expectation of guests at all. The set up, despite its informality and simplicity, did quite well, supplementing the meagre income that Mel received from her other modest assets. Their guests were multi cultural and for the most part, gracious and undemanding. Some even put down semi-permanent roots staying six months or a year in the hospitable lodgings of the two women. Mel revelled in the new company while Manel’s associations were mostly limited to the quiet sharing of meals and the simple exchange of pleasantries when she passed them on the stairs or at the main door. She liked it that way – the house alive with energy she could feel but activity she could, for the most part, not see or be a part of.

It was the festive season, a day in November in fact, when Chirkoot Kumar first came to stay at Serendib Lodge. Better know as Sherry Kumar, he tended to hide the hapless burden of his first name, a dubious gem bestowed on him by his paternal grandfather, away from the judging eyes of the world. He was a short, stout man with a gleaming bald head and a perennial smile on his round face. Looking at the world dead on from the otherwise unremarkable face was a pair of striking green eyes. They were large and chameleon-like, changing colours in congruence with their surroundings. He swept into the two women’s lives like a ship into harbour – grandly, triumphantly and with the resounding drop of an anchor. To all intents and purposes, it appeared that he had come to stay. At 65 years old, he was still in love with life and went about it with the zeal of a teenager. Mel immediately took to him, spending every hour that he had free and in the house, at his side. They talked about politics, cricket, the sorry state of the world, the even sorrier state of their social peers and the best koththu in town. She had in her earlier gusto for the scintillating company, tried a bit of flirtation too which was met with smiling equanimity by Sherry and a soon-to-follow chiding, deriding note to herself. She wasn’t the “falling in love” type! She was the chatty, smart-alecky sort who liked nothing better than to regale and be regaled; to banter endlessly until the sun came up or went down depending on what defined the tail end of a 4 hour session of gab and gossip.

Through this reverberating environment of ceaseless chatter, Manel continued to be quiet and retiring. She had yet again seen the entire sequence of a relationship, such as it occasionally tended to assail Mel, unfold in quick time and then settle into an easy camaraderie. She had at its various junctures, felt amusement, anxiety and finally a peaceful acclimatisation to its newest flame, who was now a friend in Mel’s life. She didn’t resent the fact that Mel spent less and less time with Manel these days. She had her hands full doing the laundry and the cooking for the three and sometimes four and five residents of Serendib Lodge; and of course, she loved her time in the garden. It was a little patch of emerald green surrounded by a wondrous array of colours and chaos that looked like it had dropped right off a nature painter’s canvas. She had a flair for creating life that revelled in the joy of wild abandon. Cats claws and Thunbergia climbed curving and looping around Araliya, Mango and Indian almond trees, leaving bright splashes of yellow, purple and white in their meandering wake. For the time that she was in the garden, Manel was one with the burgeoning, budding world around her.

(1) Chhip! Yanna!: Colloquial Sinhalese for “Shoo! Go away!”

* Garandia: Sri Lankan Rat snake that feeds on rodents


Read Part Two here: https://theroamingdesi.org/2021/05/24/serendib-lodge-part-two/

VERSE| IN NATURE’S EMBRACE

The green of the earth 
And the blue of the sky;
The cool, mellow breeze
That caressingly passes by.

The trilling of the birds
The humming of the bees;
The rustling of the leaves
In their verdant canopies.

The well-loved paths
Fringed with emerald grass;
The spring-born butterflies
Delicately flitting past.

That one beloved companion
Who matches steps with mine,
Our hearts and minds in harmony
In this precious time.

This surely is my heaven
My earthly paradise,
Where Nature gently embraces me
And I kiss her with my eyes.